Keep calves healthy from birth to slaughter and you'll see greater performance and better profits. It's a simple concept but it seldom works. Fact is, calves get sick.

Shan Ingram, livestock specialist with the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK, says calfhood vaccinations and health-related procedures can be adjusted to any operation and still keep sickness rates at a manageable level.

Start At Birth "The most important thing, health aside," Ingram says, "is to establish identification on the calf, so you can trace it back to its mother and have a basis for making decisions on how the cow is performing.

"Also, let the cow establish 'mothering identity,' but castrate bull calves as early as possible after birth," he says. "It's less stressful on the calf and he'll be over the procedure by the time he's learned to walk well. Granted, not everyone can castrate calves right at birth, but do it quickly. Remember, the less stress calves incur, the less health risk there is."

David Lalman, Extension beef specialist with Oklahoma State University (OSU) agrees.

"Although castration at birth is the best approach, it's not always practical," he says. "If you can't get them at birth, get them as soon as you can. Also, dehorn as soon as you can."

Implant Recommendations "We recommend implants for suckling calves," Ingram says. "If you know which heifers are going to be your replacements, there's no point in implanting them. But if you're unsure, get the weight gain on all of them until you make your decisions."

Where vaccination's concerned, Ingram says the Noble Foundation recommends vaccinating against clostridial diseases, while recognizing calves are immunized against most diseases via colostrum through six to 12 weeks.

Lalman says the bulk of OSU recommendations mirror the Vac 45 Program. The Vac 45 Preweaning option includes the following at two to four months of age or at least three to four weeks prior to weaning. Revaccination can be done at weaning.

Vaccination against IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV, 7-way blackleg and P. haemolytica with leukotoxoid component.

Revaccination against IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV and P. haemolytica.

Wean calves a minimum of 45 days prior to shipping.

The Vac 45 Weaning option includes the following: Vaccination against 7-way blackleg at branding. Vaccination against IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV and P. haemolytica with leukotoxoid component weaning and revaccination 14-21 days later.

See BEEF, September 1996, page 66, for more detail.

"If you've had problems with calf scours, it's prudent to vaccinate cows a month prior to calving to get a high level of antibodies in the colostrum," Ingram says. "Don't do this unless you have a problem. If you get an outbreak early on and still have cows to calve, that's a good time. Work with your veterinarian to determine the type of problem you have and get control of it quickly."

Parasite Control Ingram says the staff at the Noble Foundation doesn't deworm suckling calves. However, calves are administered a broad-spectrum larvacide at weaning. Suckling calves may need deworming in cases of severe infestation, he believes. Deworming calves in summer, though, can net you a $20-40/head return, depending on your location. If you're uncertain, do some diagnostic work with your veterinarian to determine if there's a problem, he advises.

Don't Forget Nutrition "We've found high-protein, limited amounts of creep feed to be helpful prior to weaning," Ingram says. "That's especially true where people are retaining ownership of their calves because weaning weights are increased and there's less stress on calves. We've observed they don't walk and bawl as much as pulling them off the cow cold turkey."

Ingram adds this is particularly helpful on spring calves. In addition, a lot of fall calving operations have been doing this from the latter part of January through the first of March.

For producers seeking low-cost weaning programs, feeding quality grass hay in combination with a pound of supplement that includes an antibiotic will provide a low-cost and effective ration, Lalman says.

Healthy After Weaning Ingram says a health program for weaning calves really depends on your operational goals.

"We worked with an operator who wanted to retain ownership, but wheat pasture didn't develop," Ingram says. "The best thing for him to do was to sell the calves immediately, and not put any more money into them. With the current market structure, that was a prudent marketing decision.

"For those retaining ownership of calves for 60 days or more, we recommend a preconditioning health program that includes a respiratory complex, a booster on clostridials, a pasteurella vaccine and five-way lepto," he says. "We like to do that a month prior to weaning and boost them a day before weaning. This gets all the vaccinations completed before the calf incurs the stress of weaning."

Lalman recommends a solid backgrounding program if you retain ownership. He says if it costs you $15-20/head to background calves, you'll save that much or more once they're in the feedyard.

Retained Ownership Tips "If you're retaining ownership, overall risk is reduced by being well prepared," Lalman says. "Develop a good relationship with your feedyard and communicate with the manager so you don't duplicate procedures. Come up with a program the two of you can use to meet backgrounding and feeding goals."

Once calves are in the feedyard, work with feedyard management to be sure procedures that fit finishing goals are performed.

Basic procedures pay off at slaughter. Lalman says Texas Ranch to Rail data indicates there's an overall advantage of $80/head for healthy animals compared to sick ones. By practicing commonsense procedures, you can pad your pocketbook.